EPD Australasia

Profile: Rob Rouwette, Life cycle expert and approved EPD verifier

Rob Rouwette | Approved Verifier |EPD AustralasiaRob Rouwette is one of Australia’s most experienced Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) experts. Based in Melbourne, Rob is Senior Manager with environmental consultancy firm Energetics and Founder and Director of private consultancy start2see.

Throughout his career, Rob has been an active contributor to the development of the Australian LCA sector. A past president of the Australian LCA Society (ALCAS), he has been instrumental in driving the progress of Australia’s national life cycle inventory database, AusLCI.

An approved EPD verifier for EPD Australasia, Rob is also a member of the Technical Advisory Group.

We spoke to Rob about AusLCI, EPDs and the future of life cycle thinking.

How did you first become involved in sustainability?

I became concerned about the state of the environment when I was a teenager. I decided that the best way to do something positive, was for me to study environmental science with the intention of working in roles where I could make a difference.

So, I did a four-year environmental science/engineering degree, during which I was first introduced to life cycle assessment. Life cycle thinking greatly interested me and when the opportunity came up to work in this field I grabbed it with both hands.

You have played an active part in establishing AusLCI.  What is AusLCI and how important is it to the quality of LCA?

AusLCI is a database of Australian life cycle inventory (LCI) data. LCI data underpin each and every LCA, so it’s important that we have access to good quality data. AusLCI contains industry-specific data and is connected to the “AusLCI shadow database”, which contains generic background data. Together, they form an extensive database that can be used as a basis for most LCA studies.

The reason why I believe AusLCI is so important for the quality of LCAs (and EPDs) in Australia is that it provides a transparent, independently reviewed dataset. It should be the starting point of each LCA in Australia, as it greatly reduces differences in LCA results due to data selection.

Ultimately, LCAs are used to make decisions. Without an agreed dataset, the decisions become a lot more uncertain. Furthermore, if we have a common database, it is much easier for practitioners and verifiers to assess data quality and discuss any possible shortcomings in the data. This greatly lifts the quality of LCAs overall.

You are also an approved verifier for EPD Australasia.  Do you think the verification process is important for EPDs?

Yes, the verification process is crucial to the success of EPDs. We have plenty of competent LCA practitioners in Australia and New Zealand working on EPDs, but a strong verification still adds value.

Almost every LCA contains a large number of choices, assumptions and interpretations of the rules in order to model the life cycle. A verifier’s task is to provide an extra pair of critical eyes and test the most relevant ones. In some cases the verification leads to an adjustment of the LCA results, or a qualification of results so that the user understands how to interpret the EPD.

For users of EPD information, it is fundamental that they don’t need to understand the underlying LCA in every detail to know that they can rely on the results. The verification process is an indispensable step to get to this point of trusting the LCA results.

How do you envisage life cycle thinking evolving over the next few years?

An imminent change with potentially a large impact comes through the update of the EN15804 standard. The update could introduce the requirement to include more indicators in the LCA/EPD results.

I have some concerns about whether we have the LCI data to incorporate some of these indicators in a robust way, and would like to see the LCA community put more energy into this. On a positive note, I think we will see growing interest in the circular economy and we will see LCA and circular economy growing closer together to achieve better sustainability outcome

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